The Greeks long ago created a word — katharsis — expressing the sense of purification or purgation one draws from the 12 to 20-year prison sentence handed down by Judge David Stutzman to Daniel Brewer following Brewer’s guilty and no-contest pleas in two 1981 rapes in Ogden.
Both prosecution and defense attorneys had agreed in exchange for Brewer’s guilty plea last July that the court would be asked to issue what amounted to a five-year house arrest sentence. To some degree, that deal was cut to spare the state the burden of incarcerating a man who at this stage exists in a frankly pitiable body — Brewer is legless, blind, diabetic and receiving kidney dialysis treatments three times a week.
It is not easy to look with something more than pity upon Brewer, but it is necessary, and Judge Stutzman wisely did so Monday. Setting aside the defense counsel’s plea that Brewer was suffering enough already, and also the state’s accession of convenience — in prison, it would be responsible for his medical costs — Stutzman saw a more fundamental need. He saw the need to judicially affirm that some acts are by their nature so serious as to require substantive penalty, even if the imposition of that penalty is costly. Forcible rape, he said, is one of those acts. We agree, as, we think, must anyone else who heard the eloquent descriptions in court — one by a victim and two others by the relative of a deceased victim — of the harm done by Brewer. Nor was it possible to overlook the fact that an innocent man had already been wrongly convicted and served 10 years in prison for one of the crimes committed by Brewer. In the state’s eyes, that man was not technically one of the accused’s “victims,” but the denial of such status to Eddie Lowery is the merest technicality.
In the context of all of that, Stutzman’s declaration that society must actually punish Brewer’s 1981 actions appropriately fits the purgative — which is to say the cathartic — aspect of the judicial role, the legal and formal expression of outrage by the body politic.
This sense of catharsis may be seen by some as primal and vestigial, but that does not de-legitimize it. Indeed, society is collectively bound from time to time to assert, even if distastefully, that some actions extend beyond the collective pale of acceptability. The judge is to be applauded for choosing the correct course.