NWA editorial: Turning a new page

Judge’s creative sentencing a novel idea

Posted: April 21, 2017 at 1 a.m.

What's that old saying again? Is it "art imitates life" or "life imitates art?"

Perhaps a case can be made for both. Without question, art can provoke one's thinking. It can take a mind places it might not voluntarily want to go, to give consideration of a perspective that doesn't necessarily come naturally to the one who experiences it.

What’s the point?

A Benton County circuit judge throws the book at a defendant, with great hope it makes a difference.

Edgar Degas, the French artist, put it this way: "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see."

Brad Karren is a circuit judge in Benton County who, at least according to Degas' definition, is trying to play the role of artist.

Eric Edinger is a 19-year-old from Estill Springs, Tenn., who recently appeared in Karren's court. Last year, Edinger played a role in a June 2016 attack on Paul Ray Halligan of Kansas at a motel in Bentonville. Four other people -- at least some of whom had taken part in a Kentucky event put on by a group known as the Confederate Regulators -- were sentenced in the attack, which apparently was sparked the group's suspicions that Halligan had been involved in some sort of theft while at the Kentucky gathering.

According to police, a beaten Halligan was dumped near Bentonville's Grace Point Church. Three of the assailants have been found guilty, with two sentenced to terms in prison on kidnapping, assault and other charges.

This Confederate Regulators group purports to be a group of nonracist, like-minded individuals interested in protecting their constitutional rights. Apparently, there's some debate over whether there's a constitutional right to not be kidnapped and beaten.

At 19, Edinger was the youngest involved, charged as an accomplice to kidnapping. In Karren's court early this month, the judge placed Edinger on 10 years of state-supervised probation with an opportunity to have that conviction expunged if he can make it that long without any other troubles.

Karren also ordered Edinger to give a book report.

Yes, a book report, on either a 77-year old novel or the Henry Fonda movie based on the book released in 1943. The subject of the report, Karren ordered, must be the western known as "The Ox-bow Incident."

Here's the basic story (spoiler alert!): A posse from a town where a neighbor has reportedly been shot dead by cattle rustlers tracks down three men who have some of the dead man's cattle. The angry posse members are convinced justice must be carried out, despite the pleas of town store keeper Art Davies.

"Wait a minute, men," Davis told the posse. "Don't let's go off half-cocked to do something we'll be sorry for. We want to act in a reasonable and legitimate manner. Not like a lawless mob."

The words fall on deaf ears and the three men are hanged in Ox-bow Canyon. Then the posse rides back to town, where the sheriff reveals he's found the men responsible for shooting their neighbor, the owner of the cattle. And, it turns out, he was only shot, not killed.

Maybe Judge Karren has the lofty idea that a 19-year-old man might just have some capacity to learn something from that tale. He could have just sentenced him to prison or just to the probation, but Karren seems to be trying to help Edinger think about what's he and the others did in a different light.

It's probably not what people have in mind when they want a judge to "throw the book" at someone in their courts. And it may be asking too much for a four-page, double-spaced book report to produce some life-altering change in this young man's life.

But we hear on good authority that art is what you make others see. Maybe this judge's sentence has a chance to be defined, in its own small way, as a masterpiece.

Commentary on 04/21/2017