Tuesday, February 25, 1997
Scalded boy can inspire
tougher laws


BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Richmond
Matthew Richmond
| ZOOM |
There is nothing we can do now for Matthew Richmond. Not really. Prayers, maybe. But the God most people worship surely would not need to be asked to prepare a place for this little soul.

Just 12 years old, he was scalded in hot water, burned over most of his body, gasping for air in the moments before he died. He had no burns on his head because, police say, his tormentor didn't want to burn his own hands. So that's what he grabbed to push the boy under water. Matthew's head.

Really makes your stomach churn, doesn't it?

After Matthew was hospitalized - more than 13 hours after he was assaulted - people all over the city sent cards and balloons and toys that he would never see.

''I have become emotionally involved with the story of Matthew Richmond,'' writes a Middletown businessman. ''I can't explain it, but I'm very upset and want to do something. Please advise.''

I couldn't think of anything to tell him.

An end to his pain

Stu Walker, of Walnut Hills, who suffered similar burns as a 12-year-old in 1973, writes of his own ordeal. ''The next days were a blur, and I remember bits and pieces. It is so hard to forget the time my skin fused together between my chest and arm and watching my father cry helplessly as I lay there while the staff yanked my arm skyward.

''I remember lying at night nude because I couldn't have any clothing on, only the sheet draped over the rails and how cold I was. I remember my daily trips to the whirlpool and the day my whirlpool buddy died and thinking how lucky he was to end his pain.''

Matthew Richmond's ordeal ended Jan. 13, after 12 days of pain and needles and tubes.

His mother, Sharon Richmond, who pleaded guilty to child endangering, faces up to five years in prison when she is sentenced in April. No one believes she is responsible for his injuries, just that she let him suffer. And didn't protect him.

Her boyfriend, Richard Joseph Klein, is in jail awaiting trial on charges of murder, involuntary manslaughter, felonious assault and child endangering. He could spend the rest of his life in prison. But he probably won't.

Parole boards routinely override the recommendations of judges and juries.

Flexible morals

Last week, the Ohio Senate voted to make child killers subject to the death penalty. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters told the subcommittee about Matthew. And showed photos. The bill is now in the House, where a similar measure is pending. Nobody has been executed in Ohio for 30 years, but at least if somebody is sentenced to death here he generally spends the rest of his life in prison.

Perhaps it will merely keep the goons who hurt children behind bars longer. That's worth something. The number of abused American children was estimated at 2.81 million in 1993 - up 98 percent from 1986, when the last Health and Human Services Department study was published.

Makes you wonder how quickly we could cut that number if we put these predators in jail and kept them there. Northern Kentucky priest, the Rev. Earl Bierman, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for abusing six boys, and the Covington diocese has received dozens of additional complaints. Imagine the savings in human suffering if he'd been put away in, say, 1959.

Of course, Father Bierman didn't kill anybody. He just ruined lives.

We live in famously flexible times - flexible mortgages, flexible schedules, flexible morals. Let's be intractable on this matter. Let's decide that whatever is the worst punishment we have will be reserved for those who hurt children. Let's be relentless. Let's be fiercely protective. If we waver, let's picture Matthew's face.

Maybe there is just one thing we can do for him. We can remember.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax to 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

Previous stories

OHIO SENATE OKs DEATH PENALTY FOR CHILD KILLERS Feb. 20, 1997
BILL SEEKS DEATH FOR CHILD KILLERS Jan. 24, 1997
BOYFRIEND FACES MURDER CHARGE Jan. 15, 1997
BOY SCALDED IN TUB DIES Jan. 14, 1997
PULFER COLUMN: The short, valuable life of one child Jan. 14, 1997
PULFER COLUMN: Scalded boy belongs to all of us Jan. 14, 1997