“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it, is another dimension — a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into…The Twilight Zone.”
I bet a lot of you remember Rod Serling’s classic TV series that guided viewers through unnatural, fantastical scenarios. Episode after episode of “The Twilight Zone” brought us stories of wild and crazy plots packed with drama, psychological thrill, fantasy, science fiction and suspense.
For example, in one episode, there’s a swimming pool unlike any other. In it, lies a secret entrance to never-neverland, for those wishing to escape reality and visit the bottomless regions of the Twilight Zone.
Pretty far-fetched stuff, right?
But friends, we have all entered into the Twilight Zone. Whether you know it or not and whether you like it or not, it’s where you are. It’s where we all are and have been since last week when something so outrageous, so incredibly unbelievable sent us spinning into what is obviously another dimension.
In the Twilight Zone, I can understand what happened last Wednesday, Jan. 22, in Third District Court. The Twilight Zone isn’t supposed to make sense. So I get it.
The Twilight Zone is where a man can sexually abuse his daughter for five to six years, admit to it in court, and walk away with a slap on the wrist. Actually, a slap on the wrist would have been a short jail sentence.
When Assistant Uinta County Attorney Lora Cooper agreed to the plea deal that dropped 16 felony charges involving child abuse, and when Judge Dennis Sanderson approved that god-awful deal, Jerry Brunow of Lyman got much less than a slap on the wrist — he got a high-five!
The plea deal essentially says it’s OK to sexually assault children over long periods of time because you will not be punished for doing so.
Were Cooper and Sanderson even awake on Wednesday? Were they sober? Were they even in the courtroom, or were wax mannequins filling in for them so they could hit the slopes or enjoy a late lunch? Were they playing a secret game of Monopoly, and Brunow turned over a get out of jail free card?
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made some poor decisions while feeling sleepy, having a few drinks or playing hooky. I’ve even made some terrible choices while playing Monopoly — but nothing along these lines; nothing even close to the gravity of this debacle.
Seventeen felony counts involving child abuse. Seventeen. And Jerry Brunow gets probation in a deal that was agreed to by the Uinta County Attorney’s Office, and approved by a district court judge.
Wow. Are you kidding me?
Why on earth was no jail time included in the plea agreement?
And why on earth did Judge Sanderson accept the plea agreement?
Was the state’s case botched so badly — like others recently have been — that their only shot was to get Brunow to admit to a single reduced charge?
Whatever the answer, the result of Wednesday’s hearing is pathetic.
I can’t help but blame both Cooper and Sanderson for letting a longtime child sex abuser roam our streets. And doing so with the confidence that comes with knowing you can commit such heinous crimes without seeing any real punishment.
I realize charges are sometimes trumped up and overplayed in order to have more wiggle room when negotiating plea deals. But 17 felony charges — some of which he admitted to in court — pleaded down to probation? As John McEnroe, tennis legend and one of my childhood heroes, often said — or rather, screamed, — “YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!”
The man admitted quite graphically in court that he sexually assaulted his adopted daughter from the time she was 12 until she was 17.
To make the plea deal, they should have dropped three of the charges. Drop five of the charges. Drop half of the charges. But for crying out loud, do not drop 16 of the charges and then reduce the charge to which he pleads guilty. If I did my job that poorly, I’d be fired on the spot. Many of you would, too.
To say our justice system is broken is an immense understatement. It has crumbled. It’s been mutilated, pulverized.
I consider myself to be quite lenient with most things, even most crime. I believe in mercy. But I, and many people I’ve talked to about this, just keep wondering how in the world what happened in that courtroom Wednesday is even possible. It’s baffling.
I’ve heard that people, especially in Bridger Valley, are outraged. They should be. I’m outraged. Just like a popular bumper sticker reads, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!”
I wonder if Cooper and Sanderson are simply not paying attention.
What is wrong with our justice system that makes this possible?
Under Wyoming state law, Brunow could be sent away for 20 years for crimes he admitted to in court last week. That’s just for one of the 17 counts he was originally charged with, which was then reduced to sexual assault in the third degree.
Twenty years! Would that be too harsh? That’s roughly four years behind bars for each year that he admittedly sexually assaulted his own daughter. Not four years for each time he did it. Four years for each year that he was sexually assaulting his own daughter.
Even 20 years is one hell of a deal for him, knowing that his victim will suffer to some degree for the rest of her life.
Brunow said in court that he abused his daughter for “several years.” Several years! Those were HIS words. Is it not a grave injustice that he is free and clear to roam Uinta County, your neighborhood, my neighborhood? Should he not serve time for “several years?”
I’m going out on a limb here, because I don’t know Brunow and I don’t know his employer. But he said he works near Rock Springs at the Trona Mines. I would think he’ll lose his job over this, but who knows? Assuming he does, that means his employer is handing down a harsher penalty than the court. His employer, if they do the right thing, will have a higher moral standard than our broken justice system. That’s something to think about.
Like Linda Cummings, as she told the Herald last week, I too, am a secondary victim of child sexual assault. Too many of us are. Too many of us know someone who was abused. And too often, it doesn’t only happen once, or to only one person.
To those in the valley, to those in our county, watch out for Brunow. I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of him. History shows child sex abusers often strike again. And if he does, I hope we have someone with the authority, competency and moral compass to do what no one had the courage to do last week: send him to Rawlins for a very long time and keep him away from our children.
“The Twilight Zone” wasn’t really my favorite show, and now that we’ve been flung into it without warning, I really don’t like it at all. Let’s get back to reality, folks. Let’s hold people accountable for their actions — whether they are criminals or public officials.