The blaze killed Fire Lt. John Clancy. Smith was convicted of murder in the second degree and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. The trial and sentence were a horrendous miscarriage of justice. Nothing outside of naked political ambition could explain the decision of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown to try this as a murder case. The district attorney was under considerable pressure from firefighters who wanted Smith to pay for the fire that took the life of John Clancy. That is not an excuse.
Before we go any further, we want to make it clear that we have enormous sympathy for Clancy's wife, who was pregnant at the time of the fire, and John Jr. who is now 5 years old. But society does not honor the memory of this hero firefighter by sending a young man to prison for the rest of his life for what everyone admits was an accident.
In ordering a new trial, Judge Hanophy did not address the merits of this case. Instead he ruled that Smith had ineffective counsel. The judge believes that Smith's attorney did not give him proper advice when the prosecution offered a plea deal that would have landed Smith in prison for a few years at most.
Neither Smith, nor his new attorney, Ron Kuby, pretend that he does not have some responsibility for the tragic death of Lt. Clancy. Smith and his girlfriend were squatters living illegally in that house. When the fire started, they fled. Had they remained at the scene, they could have told the firefighters that the house was empty. Lt. Clancy died while searching for victims in the blaze.
Smith was trespassing and his careless actions caused the fire. He deserved to be punished. But he is not a murderer. By this harsh standard, every drunk driver who causes a fatal accident should be tried for murder.
D.A. Brown should search his conscience before trying Smith again for murder. Smith was a crack addict who showed very poor judgment. He has already spent five years in prison for his crime. That's enough.
After the bashing
Now that the elections are over, what will the politicians do to repair the damage that has been done to the thousands of people of the Islamic faith living in Queens? In their breathless drive to win voters, the Democratic U.S. Senate contender Hillary Rodham Clinton and the GOP's U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio did their best to distance themselves from the Islamic community.
Both candidates, anxious to prove their loyalty to Israel, were careful not be seen in the shadow of a mosque. This community has almost no political power in New York. And no politician ever lost an election by taking a hard-line stand against the Palestinians and other "enemies of Israel."
Nevertheless, whoever has won the senate race, will have to help shape a U.S. policy that will further the cause of peace in the Middle East. The new senator must represent all communities and ethnic groups, even those with little or no ability to influence an election.
After their performance in the waning days of the campaign, it will be difficult for Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Lazio to convince the Islamic community of New York that their voices will also be heard.
©2000 Community News Group
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