March 9, 2011

Searching for Justice in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

A result is the opposite of justice if it has the father of a child-killer's victim calling in to a radio show to express such thoughts as this:

It was a shame he only got forty years to begin with. He should have got a life sentence, but stupidly, I allowed the plea bargaining to go so I wouldn't have to put up with agony of hearing all of the events, at that time. I didn't want to hear them, so it was my mistake. You know what, that was my mistake to let that happen, to let the plea bargain happen, and I got myself to blame for that. I got myself to blame for allowing him to be released early, to become a predator to other people — if he's not released in Rhode Island, wherever he is, a predator to somebody else. I'm to blame for all that, and I'll make that right if he's released.

John Foreman is the father of Jason Foreman, a five year old whom Michael Woodmansee murdered in 1975. As the Providence Journal reported on Sunday, Woodmansee, who got off easy with a forty-year sentence, is scheduled to be released after serving only twenty-eight, for good behavior and for holding a job while in prison.

A stronger argument for the death penalty, I've never seen — if only so that authorities could have had the leverage both to spare the family the agony of a trial through plea bargaining and to put Woodmansee behind bars for life. This outcome is a travesty, especially considering that the only reason the killer was caught was that he botched another attempt seven years later.

I'm surprised, by the way, that neither South Kingstown Police Chief Vincent Vespia, who was on the show at the beginning of the segment, nor show host John DePetro responded to Foreman's multiple statements of intent to kill Woodmansee by discouraging him from doing so. Honestly, I had related thoughts to Foreman's upon reading the Projo article, but becoming a killer himself won't bring back his son, and it will only prolong the ordeal for everybody else affected by the initial atrocity.

More productive, should Woodmansee find himself on the street, would be a concerted campaign to find and expose him wherever he may go, perhaps by means of legislation that would treat multiple attempts at child murder with at least some of the enforced stigma that follows sexual abuse. Perhaps some vestige of justice would be salvaged if the killer finds freedom to be more restrictive, and less peaceful, than incarceration.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

If anything, people should be working to change the laws and rules as they exist. Change it so that someone may not leave prison before they are completely rehabilitated.

Prison is supposed to serve two purposes, to punish and rehabilitate. The punishment part of the length of sentence is completely subjective. For the people directly affected, it'll never be long enough. But on the rehab side, why are people getting out of prison if they're not rehabilitated, such as child predators. If there's any chance that they could strike again, keep 'em in (or put 'em 6 feet under).

But if someone is fully rehabilitated and the government feels the punishment is long enough, then it really is wrong for anyone else to exact more punishment.

When you live in the US and in a state, there are a lot of things that you implicitly agree to, such as following laws, paying taxes, etc. But another one is to let the judicial branch do its job.

I can understand where this father is coming from, but he's got to be careful. He's already walking a really fine line toward already committing a crime himself. You can't go around threatening someone with their life. I don't know that his words have crossed that line already, but someone should advise him to be careful.

Posted by: Patrick at March 9, 2011 10:19 AM

John Depetro is getting national attention because of this story, another example of his never ending hunger for the spotlight. It started nineteen years ago, when Depetro was a new talkshow host, and Cornell Young was mistakenly shot and killed by fellow Providence Police officers. I saw the disingenuous nature of the host then, and it has only gotten worse over the years.

The admission of intent to murder by John Forman should have been the end of the call, but the voyeuristic nature of the media, and the public will turn this into a circus. It all makes great headlines, and feeds a sick population what it wants. The death of a child should never be exploited, and that is exactly what is happening, regardless of Depetro's claims that he is looking for justice.

The only justice that could be done is to end this story as it is being told, and handle it privately.

Posted by: michael at March 9, 2011 10:25 AM

The way I understand it, incarcertaion has four possible justifications: deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation, and retribution.

I don't think there would be any difference in deterrent effect between a 28 year sentence, a life sentence, or even the death penalty. I can't imagine anyone so crazy or cavalier that they would risk going to jail for 28 years (longer than I've been alive) but a life sentence would stop them in their tracks. At some point the punishment clearly doesn't make a difference anymore. See also: 20-year drug-related jail sentences.

The last three justifications are where the problem comes in here. Retribution has no intellectual or moral justification, unless you buy into the whole exacting God's will thing. But as a practical societal matter, the public blood lust must be satisfied after these crimes or people will take matters into their own hands. Just the way humans are for whatever evolutionary/psychological reason.

Clearly the man was mentally ill at the time of these crimes and would have offended again without police intervention. He needs a thorough evaluation to determine whether he is fit for release or not. The largely arbitrary prison sentence he served doesn't address that elephant in the room. For me, it's not so much a matter of whether he sat in jail playing cards for 28 years or 40 years. It's a matter of whether he is fit to reenter society. We just don't know, and that's a problem. Probably some sort of mental illness treatment program with lots of medication and doctor evaluations would make more sense for these types of people. I'm not talking about Butler.

Posted by: Dan at March 9, 2011 10:51 AM

Woodmansee should have never been seen fit to stand trial. He should have been sent to the IMH. If he had been sent to the IMH there would never have been any chance of release, they could have just kept re certifying him so he could spend his life behind bars. The problem is when people complain that a killer gets "off" when he pleas not guilty by insanity, and it is documented that people who are insane who have killed are never released, unlike those who go to trial, plea to 40 years and get out in 28.
I hope the AG can get him committed.

Posted by: SWAZOOL at March 9, 2011 11:11 AM

As they say in Texas, he needs killin'.

Posted by: BobN at March 9, 2011 11:48 AM

I have to agree with Patrick here. We make the rules, and we have to follow them and live with the outcomes.

One thing worth noting is that 'child predators' actually have a recidivism rate -far- lower than other criminals, fewer than 6% re-offend. I know it doesn't fit into the media-propelled image of the inveterate child molester, but there's math to back it up.

As for Woodmansee (who, as far as I know was only into killing, not molesting or cannibalism as reported or implied on the news), he should be thoroughly evaluated for mental issues if he's to be released, and release should be contingent on following an accountable 'mitigation plan' if he is mentally ill. Then again, -all- violent offenders should probably get that level of preventative service. Who knows, maybe he's not at all a threat -or- a $60K annual expense for taxpayers anymore if he gets $25 a month of Depakote.

Posted by: mangeek at March 9, 2011 12:43 PM

Michael-Cornell Young was killed 11 years ago.
Woodmansee should be relocated next to Art Handy's house.Handy has a soft spot for animals who victimize children.
Actually,swazool would be correct except that "insane"in the legal/go on trial sense is much different than the "insane"we tend to think of.
I dealt with prisoners awaiting competency determinations back in the 70's-this creature would've been right at home with them.
If something untoward happened to him,it wouldn't be a tragedy.
I'm not a Depetro fan by the way.I'd just like to see him held in custody for the rest of his life.
Hell,we send money launderers away for 500 year sentences.

Posted by: joe bernstein at March 9, 2011 1:25 PM

"As for Woodmansee (who, as far as I know was only into killing, not molesting or cannibalism as reported or implied on the news)"

... um, do a little more reading, Mangeek. He was into all of those things. That's why people are disturbed about his release.

Posted by: Monique at March 9, 2011 1:36 PM

To add on to one of Joe's points, Madoff gets life, a child murderer gets 28 years? That's about right?

Posted by: Patrick at March 9, 2011 1:49 PM

Well, Madoff's crime erased thousands of people's life savings, I think that punishment is right-on.

And remember, this was a 40-year sentence, seems appropriate considering that Woodmansee was a teenager at the time of the killings.

I don't want to sound like I'm defending this guy, just that calm reasoning should prevail. Now that the sentence has been served, it's up to the professionals to determine if the man is still a deranged killer, or if he's been 'fixed'.

Posted by: mangeek at March 9, 2011 4:44 PM

An important function of public law and order is being missed, here: to meet the public's expectation that the government will mete out justice in satisfactory degree that individuals needn't take matters into their own hands.

This killer snuffed out a kindergartener, sent his father into alcoholism, caused irreparable harm to an entire family, an entire community, cost countless hours and resources, and then tried to do it again. Does 28 years seem like a just sentence? Put aside the rules; the rules are a function not of gods, but of men, and they can be flawed.

Frankly, I completely sympathize with Mr. Foreman for his vigilante impulse, and frankly, although I wouldn't consider acting on it to be wise or in accord with my understanding of divinely determined morality, but I cannot in the least call it unreasonable. Clearly, I'm not alone.

A justice system that doesn't satisfy a critical mass of people that it is, in fact, just (and effective) will see the seams of civilization eroding.

As for Dan's comment about duration, I can only offer testimony that between the ages of 30 and 35, characterized by a couple of careers and several children, is when I realized how insignificant time really is. Better to look at the age of the criminal: Getting out in one's mid-60s (especially from the perspective of the 1980s) is time enough to watch the sunset, as it were. Getting out around 50 is time enough for another career and enough of a life to make light of the one that he snuffed out.

(Again, 40 years was ridiculous even in the 80s.)

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 9, 2011 4:57 PM


In this context, "calm reasoning" is insufficient if it does not answer the understandable emotions of the victims and the community. And frankly, if you listen to the audio, Mr. Foreman sounds perfectly calm and reasonable; he just comes to a different conclusion than you.

Mostly, assuming the monster's released, I'm suggesting that it would be very calm and very reasonable for private citizens to do everything, within the scope of the law, to ensure that he is never able to live as if he did not do what he did.

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 9, 2011 5:04 PM

If Rhode Island had the death penalty former Warwick police sergeant Scott Hornoff could have been executed, instead he is a free man now.

Posted by: Sammy at March 9, 2011 5:46 PM

"...insufficient if it does not answer the understandable emotions of the victims and the community"

I don't see how it's 'just' to allow a particularly noisy community or heartwrenching story change the course of an individual case, unless there are valid mitigating factors that fit within the word of law. It's unfortunate that sentences aren't properly figured out, if this man was supposed to serve 40 years, he should serve 40. It's not good when the language used in sentencing doesn't match up with reality. Basically, the sentence should be based on 'good behavior', with adverse incidents counting to -more- time in prison.

"I'm suggesting that it would be very calm and very reasonable for private citizens to do everything, within the scope of the law, to ensure that he is never able to live as if he did not do what he did."

By all means. I've participated in this kind of thing before, to get the abuser of a child close to me to leave town permanently. So long as it's legal, I have no issue with it. People can choose not to serve him at stores, refuse to do work on his house, report any violations of the law on his behalf, etc.

Posted by: mangeek at March 9, 2011 5:49 PM

Rhode Island should utilize the justice the state of Wisconsin "arranged" for Jeffrey Dahmer. Give Woodmansee bathroom duty in prison with a violent psychopath and let jungle rule apply.

To John Foreman and the Foreman family, you have my deepest sympathies and my full support. Your rage is shared by many.

Joe, I was thinking about how Woodmansee should bunk up with Steve Brown and the ACLU creepdom.

Michael, the story is about a canabalistic predator of children and you're worrying about DePetro?? You want this story about Woodmansee's potential early release handled privately?? You've lost your mind.
If DePetro were a union puss you'd love everything about him.

Posted by: Tim at March 9, 2011 7:14 PM

This scum could easily have gotten life. Remember, it was 3 members of the corrupt Irish Democrat machine who caused this by their sloth. Maureen McKenna, Susan McGuirl and notoriously corrupt Denny Roberts. They've been mostly running the show in this state since 1934. We desrve what we get.
I agree this scum should be moved right next to Art Handy...or Amy Rice, Chuck Levesque, Edith Aiello, Matt Jerzyk, Pat Crowley, etc. Hey, Bruce Reilly, an almost equally vicious murderer is part of the crowd at Wild Colonial, Local 121 and Cuban Revolution.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at March 9, 2011 7:15 PM

@Joe, thanks for agreeing with me.

@Justin, I never understand how someone who is so "pro life" can be pro death penalty at the same time.

Posted by: Swazool at March 9, 2011 7:37 PM

sammy-as usual you think you know more than you do.The Hornoff case involved a murder committed in a rage.
There are generally three types of murders that receive the death penalty:
(a)felony murder( the course of an armed robbery)
(b)premeditated murder/murder for hire
(c)depraved indifference to human life(bombs,mass shootings,etc)
The Hornoff case involved none of those.
When I lived in Dupage County,Illinois,there were three men sent to death row for a murder of a 10 year old girl during a burglary-they were later exonerated and released-the system worked.Not ideally,but it did.
I personally oppose the death penalty for any conviction based on circumstantial evidence.I think it has to be a crystal clear case,like John Wayne Gacy.

Posted by: joe bernstein at March 9, 2011 8:20 PM


Doesn't that question actually make more sense in the opposite direction?

How can someone be in favor of allowing abortions but be opposed to the death penalty?

On one end, you have the completely innocent, on the other you have someone who personally chose to disregard laws and take lives, often in a disgusting, premeditated and well thought out way.

If you have to choose, which one more "deserves" to live?

Posted by: Patrick at March 10, 2011 6:56 AM

I am often amazed how some people can agonize over executing someone who has taken lives without compunction and yet seem to overlook that in every war we've fought(or any country has fought)perfectly decent people are condemned to death for what are often cynical political motives.

Posted by: joe bernstein at March 10, 2011 8:28 AM

Everybody on this thread please google Arthur Shawcross,the Genessee River Killer.
You will get sick reading about him- he raped and murdered two children-allegations of cannibalism were made in that case-he made a PLEA DEAL and got a 25 year sentence for manslaughter!!
He got out in just over 14 years and then murdered 12 women.He also engaged in cannibalism in a few of those instances.
I won't say anything else-make your own minds up.Oh,thankfully he's dead.

Posted by: joe bernstein at March 10, 2011 9:07 AM

Tim I was actually using Deoetro as a reference for the increasing hunger our society has for the bizarre. There is no reason for a cannibalistic child killer to get any more attention, or the people in the media willing to promote such stories for a sick general public that ignores a war in Afghanistan while obsessed with Charlie Sheen. I must have heard the father of the murdered boy ten times the other day saying he would kill the murderer. That is sick stuff, and doesn't need to be on the air. Profiting from other peoples misery is simply wrong, and I could care less about Depitros union viewpoints.

Posted by: michael at March 10, 2011 9:18 AM

DePetro's failure to discourage Mr. Foreman's statements that he will kill this monster, and WPRO's repetition of the taped statements seem evidence of his intent to incite the listening public to violence, a very dangerous game. There is no good reason to keep playing that tape. The father should have been left alone.

The community support for keeping Woodmansee in prison is not borne out of a 'sick public fascinated with the bizarre'. This is a community of people who lived with the disappearance of a 5 year old for 7 years before the truth was discovered and Woodmansee found out. This is a community filled with people who searched for a five year old boy, a close knit community that changed in 1975 when he disappeared, and changed again in 1982.

It is hard to imagine this monster "passing" a mental examination. And "No thank you" to sending dangerous psychos out into the streets hoping they take a pill every day. Keep him forever behind locked bars.

Posted by: riborn at March 10, 2011 12:53 PM

"But if someone is fully rehabilitated and the government feels the punishment is long enough, then it really is wrong for anyone else to exact more punishment."

Where I disagree with Patrick (his comment) is that the government has already imposed it's term of punishment and now it's time for release. Do any of us want the government to be in the position of deciding after a lawful sentence having been served of having the right to continue the imprisonment because of the political climate and an outraged public. Don't we want the government to do what it was authorized to do and no more?

Posted by: Phil at March 10, 2011 5:49 PM

Phil-you contributed exactly what what one would expect of you.I won't asy anohther thing.

Posted by: joe bernstein at March 10, 2011 5:54 PM

I guess I will say one thing-what political climate?
This guy is still a danger because he acted out his two offenses over a period of about 5 years.Someone who does what he did can't change.This is an innately denanged individual. He needs to be civilly committed indefinitely.No double jeopardy there.The Supreme Court has actually ruled positively on a similar procedure for sexual predators,so this is not a stretch.

Posted by: joe bernstein at March 10, 2011 9:01 PM


I'm thinking that as a former law enforcement official you would recognize that a lawfully executed sentence having been served grants a citizen certain rights.

Posted by: Phil at March 10, 2011 10:52 PM

Yes Phil- however a civil committment due to this man being a danger to others is not related to the criminal sentence and has been upheld as appropriate by the Supreme Court.
The nature of the man's acts are so far outside normal criminal behavior as to make a civil committment necessary in my non-expert opinion.
We have people confined for decades who are mentally ill and haven't committed any crimes.
St.Elizabeth's Hospital in washington DC holds a good number of Cuban boatlift arrivals since 1980.None of these people have committed a crime here.They are just too dangerous to release.
There is ample precedent for what i suggest.
Just remember that a civil remedy can follow an acquittal as in the O.J.Simpson case.He was found not guilty but was liable for wrongful death.
I know you like to fight with most of us here on general principle,but this isn't tax policy-this is another child who may very well be murdered.Whose should it be,Phil?

Posted by: joe bernstein at March 11, 2011 12:19 AM


You certainly offer more than just an emotional appeal, but you too end up there anyway. The irony of using insanity at the end of Woodmansee's prison sentence to keep him locked up is that the same folks making this case would be apoplectic if any attempt was made to declare him insane at the time of his trial.

Posted by: Phil at March 11, 2011 7:48 AM

I'm not being emotional to any extreme degree,although I really am disgusted that he could be at large and an active danger.There are plenty of dangerous people out there now.
I never mentioned insanity.It has a specific legal meaning which doesn't apply to this conversation.
He may have a personality disorder which makes himextremely dangerous,but not legally insane or even crazy in the context of common usage.
John Wayne Gacy was not crazy or insane.He just had about 36 young men buried in the crawlspace of his house.
William Sarmento probably was insane(legally)-I read his note to the police because through a strange set of circumstances INS became involved in the very last stage of the investigation-I really don't want to go into detail tp spare any innocent person embarrassment,but suffice it to say Sarmento was acting in response to such things as command hallucinations and the like.
People like Woodmansee can have extremely dangerous personality disorders and seem entirely rational
in a conversation.That is still a mental disease or defect and is,unlike schizophrenia,depression,or manic-depressive disorders,completely untreatable except by exclusion form society if it manifests itself in violence.
That,my friend is not an emotional argument.
Phil-have you any children or grandkids?
It's hard to think of this man on the loose if you do.
In my book if you murder a child you go away and you never get out.
I'm not speaking of shaken baby cases here-those are mostly from ignorance as opposed to evil.
The animal in Woonsocket who took his little neighbor for "ice cream"and killed her comes to mind.Thankfully,he willnever be released.
One of my son's friends from middle school days is doing life without parole for killing a rival dope deler.
Now,who do you feel more concerned about?Him or Woodmansee?I don't give a rat's ass about one dope dealer 86'ing another one frankly.

Posted by: joe bernstein at March 11, 2011 10:14 AM

DePetro's just doing what he does - allowing a guest to endorse killing someone means more syndication $ for him.
I'm more disturbed that Vespia, if he was in the studio at the time (it's unclear), didn't try to stop it. For a high-ranking law enforcement official to allow someone sitting next to him to talk like that without at least a word of caution is irresponsible.
I expect a radio talk show host to encourage vigilanteism (yes, I'm cynical). I don't expect it from a police chief.

Posted by: bella at March 11, 2011 12:23 PM

The concern should not be about one notorious criminal like Woodmansee but for the reach of government. Joe makes a good case for keeping people who commit crimes such as the one being discussed locked up. What was the thinking then at the time in giving a 40 year sentence. Do we dismiss that? Do we in the future sentence people but hold open the door for more sanctions if there is vocal opposition to release?

Posted by: Phil at March 11, 2011 3:29 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.