Question: What's the difference between a drunken middle-aged professor who shoots a police officer and a drunken young boxer who shoots his girlfriend? Answer: One world championship and 141/2 years in prison.
Last week, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning sentenced defendants in both these cases on two successive days.
On Tuesday, he gave former Carnegie Mellon University professor Edward Constant II 141/2 to 29 years for shooting Mt. Lebanon police Officer Daniel Rieg and for firing at Rieg's partner, Jeffrey Kite. The officers had gone to Constant's house after neighbors reported a fight there.
On Wednesday, Manning recommended that former boxing champ Paul Spadafora spend six months in boot camp for shooting his then-girlfriend, now fiancee Nadine Russo, at a gas station in McKees Rocks, undercutting the formal sentence of 21 to 60 months in prison. Russo recently gave birth to the couple's son.
Each defendant was in a drunken rage when he pulled the trigger. Each had a history of domestic disturbances and alcohol abuse -- neighbors reported previous drunken altercations at the Constant home, and Spadafora was the subject of a restraining order in October 2003, when Crystal Conner, mother of his daughter, said he'd attacked and threatened to shoot her.
In sentencing Spadafora, Manning even made reference to the common thread of alcohol in the two cases.
When defense attorney William Difenderfer said that his client shot Russo because he was drunk and she had ruined the tires on his client's Hummer, Manning rightly countered that drunkenness is never an excuse and that shredding tires was not a shooting offense. Then the judge promptly torpedoed both of his own contentions by blowing the boxer a sentencing kiss where he'd thrown the book at the professor.
One obvious reason for the disparity was the way the district attorney's office handled the crimes. Constant was charged with two counts of attempted homicide and aggravated assault on police officers and one count of reckless endangerment, and these charges were pursued with vigor.
But in Spadafora's case, the DA allowed the original charges of attempted homicide and aggravated assault to be reduced in a plea bargain to second-degree assault. At the sentencing, First Assistant District Attorney Ed Borkowski didn't correct the defense's false claim that the boxer had never been the subject of a protection from abuse order. And in the end, he didn't even ask Manning for prison time.
Why not? It's not as if Spadafora hasn't blown previous opportunities to clean up his act. He's been shot in the leg by police while riding in a fleeing car; arrested for underage drinking; convicted of open lewdness and disorderly conduct; charged with shooting Russo in the chest; and then, while out on $50,000 bond, violating the conditions of his release when a random drug test showed cocaine in his system.
At that point, Borkowski insisted that Spadafora remain jailed until his trial and complained that the boxer was getting favorable treatment because of his celebrity.
"The potential for disaster here is extreme and it's present," Borkowski said at the time. "Unfortunately, that's just the way it is with Spadafora. Everybody keeps accommodating him."
Including, it would seem, the very same assistant DA, who elected to take no position on sentencing.
The point here is not that shooting a police officer while drunk deserves a slap on the wrist. It's that shooting an intimate partner while drunk is a very serious crime as well -- even when the victim has bought into the big lie that he wouldn't have mistreated her if she didn't deserve it, even when she pleads for him and makes excuses. Especially then.
Manning made his boot camp recommendation -- which the Department of Corrections could still reject -- in hopes that Spadafora will take the opportunity to salvage his career and his life. A couple of years in the slammer could have the same result, with the bonus of sending a powerful, yet all too rare message: almost killing your girlfriend is a really, really bad thing, even for celebrities.
Sally Kalson can be reached at 412-263-1610 or firstname.lastname@example.org .