Special Reports

A reasonable trade for Zina’s remains

Time was of the essence.”

That was the heart of the problem, as Pierce County Prosecutor Gerry Horne said Monday.

It’s why Horne bargained away the death penalty for Terapon Dang Adhahn in exchange for what Adhahn knew about the location of 12-year-old Zina Linnik.

It’s why Adhahn won’t be facing possible execution on aggravated murder charges, despite being linked by mounting evidence to Linnik’s abduction and murder.

Capital punishment is – at least theoretically – the law of the state. Anyone capable of raping and murdering a 12-year-old would certainly seem a candidate for it. But when Adhahn indicated a willingness to lead investigators to Linnik on July 12, Horne and others felt there was a chance, however slim, that the girl might still be alive.

Adhahn had raped before without killing the victim. He might conceivably have done so again this time.

Winning his cooperation by taking the death penalty off the table was the right choice. Were it later discovered that Linnik had still been clinging to life July 12 and might have been rescued with timely knowledge, a failure to make this deal would have been seen in retrospect as an inexcusable blunder.

That’s particularly true in light of the fact that – as Horne pointed out Monday – Washington’s death penalty is hard to take seriously. Since the voters restored it in 1975, only a single condemned killer, Charles Rodman Campbell, has been executed against his will.

Three others have been put to death, but only because they refused to appeal their sentences and pretty much used the criminal justice system to commit suicide. The Washington Supreme Court has more or less voided the death penalty in this state by finding legal defects in virtually every death sentence it reviews.

So there’s no reason to assume Zina’s murderer would have ever been executed in any case. Adhahn cunningly sold some partial information for all he could get, but Horne probably didn’t give away much in the end.

Given the widespread outrage over Zina’s death, this deal may not go over well with the public. But the last word belongs to her family. According to her uncle, Anatoly Kalchik, Zina’s loved ones were happy with the result.

“We could bury her with dignity, and she could rest in peace,” he said.

If the tradeoff Horne made is OK with those who suffered inexpressible grief over Zina’s death, it ought to be OK with the rest of us.