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Editorial

Answers needed now on danger of inmate

Jerry Lee McConnell promises to do "something big" once he gets out of the Polk County Jail June 29.

He has talked about shooting school children and made other threats about hurting himself and others.

Marty Silbernagel, the manager of Polk County Corrections, says he has every reason to take McConnell seriously. The 20-year-old convicted burglar was once committed to a mental hospital for making similar threats.

Silbernagel also says he can't do anything to stop McConnell. Once he has served his time, McConnell is free to walk away completely unsupervised.

That's why Silbernagel asked the Itemizer Observer to run a story in the May 30 issue alerting residents to McConnell's release date.

If authorities can prove McConnell really is a threat to the community, they can do something about it. Depending on what they find out, they can track him or possibly get him committed to the state hospital.

The operative word, of course, is "if."

People can make violent statements without being threats. It depends on their history and mental state. An elderly Groucho Marx once remarked the only hope for the country was the assassination of Richard Nixon.

He was not arrested. When Abbie Hoffman made similar comments, it was quite a different story.

Authorities have a deadline. They have 21 days to determine whether or not McConnell really is a threat and get the evidence to back it up. They better get on the stick.

Given the nature of McConnell's alleged threats, the possible consequences are unspeakably grim.

A reader faxed a copy of the May 30 story to a Portland area radio talk show, and there was no shortage of callers on the subject. While a number of angles and suggestions were discussed, the bottom line stayed the same. People wanted to know why and how. Why is a person who is considered a threat to others and himself about to be released, and how is this possible?

To be honest, this whole issue is not only scary, but extremely frustrating. A mere 21 days is hardly enough time to make definitive answers that could literally mean the difference between life and death.

While county corrections has distributed fliers about McConnell to all law enforcement and school officials in the area, it's vital that all parties come to the table to review the case and come up with a consensus about what should be done.

Once McConnell walks out of the Polk County Jail, he becomes everyone's concern. He can buy a bus ticket and head to any town, anywhere. There's no law that says the people in the town on his ticked have to be notified.

Authorities should have been on this situation a lot sooner. Is McConnell a genuine threat or a man unfairly judged guilty before being proven innocent?

The time has come for answers. No, scratch that. Given the stakes, the time for answers was a long time ago.

However, with the clock ticking, recriminations are useless. We all just need the facts so our community can be safe and just.

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