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Victims' rights?

Published October 07. 2010 05:00PM

The testimony and graphic evidence that emerged out of the trial of one of the attackers on a Connecticut family in their suburban home this week was so gruesome that even witnesses needed time to compose themselves.

This case brought out the absolute worst elements in society and calls for capital punishment certainly apply.

After Steven Hayes and another ex-con broke into the family's house, he beat Dr. William Petit with a baseball bat and forced his wife to withdraw money from a bank. After returning she was sexually assaulted and strangled and her two girls died of smoke inhalation after they were tied to their beds, doused with gasoline, and the house was set on fire. The youngest girl was also sexually assaulted.

As Hayes's guilty verdict was read on Tuesday, Dr. Petit, the lone survivor of the horiffic murders, sobbed.

While that murder case was unfolding in Connecticut, the right to protect one's family by adding teeth to a Pennsylvania law was being discussed by our state legislators. Pa. House members voted 159 to 38 in favor of House Bill 40, which expands the so-called Castle Doctrine, a measure giving a person the legal right to use deadly force to protect his life, his family or his house against a threatening intruder or assailant.

Under present law, homeowners can use a gun or knife or other deadly weapon to defend themselves if they find themselves facing an intruder while in their living room, dining room, den, kitchen, basement or other areas in their house.

Under the new legislation, proposed by Rep. Scott Perry of York County, a homeowner could use deadly force against an intruder who accosts him in a garage, porch, yard etc., without first having to step back. The new measure bypasses that "duty to retreat'' clause, which requires the home's occupants to retreat as far as possible and verbally announce their intent to use deadly force, before they can be legally justified in defending themselves.

"The scale is tipped slightly in favor of the criminal," Rep. Perry said in arguing for the new bill. "We want to tip it toward the law-abiding citizen."

House Minority Leader Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) said the new bill recognizes that law-abiding citizens currently can be victimized once when they are attacked and then again in a civil suit.

"This legislation protects their rights," he said.

We agree. It's about time to give crime victims every opportunity to defend their property and their families, and not by "retreating" to give the home invader any advantage.

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