Richland cop's would-be killer should stay in prison

People who do bad things should pay for their crimes.

The proper length for prison terms is a subject of much debate. The brutality of the crime often helps dictate the sentence but not always. Can people who stab and shoot a cop really be rehabilitated?

Such is the argument about whether Jerry Dean Lain, 56, should be released more than 30 years after he stabbed Richland police officer Mike Fitzpatrick seven times and shot him twice with his own gun near the Richland Y.

When he attacked Fitzpatrick, Lain had only been out of prison for five months after having served a sentence for stabbing a man in Iowa during a bar fight. While in prison, Lain threw acid in an inmate's face, blinding the man.

Obviously, his first prison sentence didn't deter Lain from further crimes. Lain was sentenced to a maximum of life in prison for the brutal attack against the police officer, who was responding to the report of a car prowl.

The parole board later said Lain needed to serve a minimum of 20 years. He has since been denied parole at least six times. While in prison, Lain has committed 23 infractions in 18 incidents. Though he hasn't been in a recorded incident in 10 years, it's still hard to believe that he has truly changed.

Lain was granted parole in 2010, but Fitzpatrick and others lobbied the governor to prevent his release. Then-Gov. Chris Gregoire used a little-known law to keep Lain in prison. The Supreme Court reviewed the decision and determined that she was within her rights.

But Lain continues to draw sympathy from members of the review board. During his most recent parole hearing, they said he expressed remorse, has participated in rehabilitation programs and has a family-support system in Iowa ready to embrace him.

The board's report also said Lain has served a "significantly greater" sentence than is required for his crime. While the board may believe Lain has taken steps to rehabilitate himself, a doctor found he is a moderate to high-risk to commit crimes if he is released. That does not bode well for a peaceful re-entry into society.

How long is long enough? Can someone who has shown such violent tendencies over and over again be rehabilitated? Those are tough questions.

Time and time again, Lain has been denied release. And the one-time his release was approved, our state's top leader took action to keep him in prison, a decision supported by our state's highest court.

So what has changed in the past few years to make Lain better suited for life outside of prison? A few more years of staying out of trouble in prison? Some job skills?

Lain will have to submit a plan for where he would go if he were to be released. The Department of Corrections and the Indeterminate Review Board would have to approve it. Community concerns would play a role in whether it would be approved.

We hope they hear our concerns. This man tried hard to kill one of our own. That he didn't succeed is a miracle.

Lain has shown that prison time and prison itself won't deter him from additional crimes. He's forfeited his right to live in a free society.