Two men, who were required to register as sex offenders, were murdered this week. Each murder is a tragedy. Together the murders should serve as a wake-up call that vigilante violence against registrants has returned.
The first murder took place on Monday in a Delaware prison when Phillip Langell, who was 69 years old, was stabbed, punched and strangled by his cellmate. The cellmate is a 55-year-old skinhead convicted of multiple violent offenses and sentenced to life without parole.
Perhaps I have watched too many prison movies during the pandemic because what happened to Mr. Langell is similar to scenes in some of those movies. Scenes in which prison guards literally stage fights between inmates and bet on the anticipated results. If that is what happened in this case, it would have been easy to predict that an older, weaker man, like Mr. Langell would be killed.
It is notable that the murderer in this case has already confessed that he killed Mr. Langell and that he will receive no additional time in prison because of that murder. Therefore, the murderer will pay no penalty for taking an innocent life and it is even possible that his standing within the skinhead community will be elevated.
The second murder took place two days later in a northern California town thousands of miles away when a neighbor walked into the home of a man required to register and shot him to death in his own home. The man who was murdered, Ralph Mendez, was 55 years old and had lived a law-abiding life after his release from prison 10 years ago. In fact, a different neighbor described Mr. Mendez as a friendly person who often assisted elderly members of the neighborhood with their daily chores.
The murderer in this case has also confessed. Although the murderer’s physical appearance does not resemble that of a skinhead, it is possible that he is a member of that or another unlawful group. After all, what motive could a person have to kill a law-abiding neighbor who often helped his elderly neighbors if not to elevate his status in an unlawful group?
There are several lessons that can be learned now from what has happened this week. For example, it is important that people who are required to register remain vigilant of their surroundings. If you are such a person and you see a person who looks like a skin head, it is important to leave that place immediately. In addition, it is important to be able to protect yourself. In the Girl Scouts we learned to travel in groups of at least two people in order to increase our physical safety. We also learned methods of self-defense.
There may be lessons to learn in the future as well. For example, we will learn what the murderers ae charged with – premediated murder, murder in the second degree or manslaughter? We will also learn from the sentences that are provided. Does society care that a registrant has been killed?
One thing we know for sure is that the people who killed Mr. Langell and Mr. Mendez will not be listed on a public sex offender registry. After all, those registries are limited to individuals convicted of what may be one offense decades ago and who is unlikely to re-offend as soon as he released from custody and his likelihood to re-offend continues to diminish each year that he lives outside custody.
Another thing we know now and will remember forever is that the deaths of Mr. Langell and Mr. Mendez are senseless tragedies that could have been prevented. May they rest in peace.